Postdoctoral Researcher Neety Sahu on Helping Patients with Osteoarthritis – Inspirationfeed

Last Updated on April 6, 2022

Medical science continues to advance in leaps and bounds in diagnosing and treating many different diseases and medical conditions. 

Breakthroughs not only improve care options today but also spark hope for more breakthroughs to come. 

It’s rare that we have the chance to speak directly to an expert-level medical researcher, but last week, we were presented with just such an opportunity. 

As we always do when speaking with experts, we asked this researcher about the essence of her work, its real-world implications, and her personal sources of motivation and inspiration. 

We’d like to invite you to join us for a compelling look into the field of medical research and the career of one incredibly skilled researcher. 

Introducing Neety Sahu, Ph.D.

Neety Sahu is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in the area of orthopedic biotechnology and therapeutics at the world-renowned Stanford University. 

Sahu holds a Ph.D., and so far, she has published a staggering twelve original research papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, which would be an incredible achievement for even a much more seasoned researcher.  

Sahu’s work is highly technical, of course, but through the rest of the article, we’ll do our best to relate all those technical elements to the primary goal of this research, which is to make life easier for people experiencing osteoarthritis. 

Of course, this research may also lead to better treatment methods for osteoarthritis in the future as well, which is good news for anyone who’s at risk of developing this condition. 

As for when and why Sahu chose to specialize in this particular area of medical research, the answers are fairly straightforward. 

Sahu specialized in osteoarthritis during her post-doctoral research. During pre-doctoral and doctoral research, she was already studying skeletal tissues (specifically bone and cartilage), so it seemed inevitable that she would end up researching a disease of the skeletal tissue. Osteoarthritis, of course, is one such disease. 

Beyond this logical connection, Sahu also saw an urgent need to research osteoarthritis in particular. 

“I’m especially drawn to this specialization because there’s no cure, no blood test for osteoarthritis after decades of research in the field. The level of urgency is often overlooked considering the fact that we are aging as we speak, and as our lifespan increases, our susceptibility to this disease increases as well.” 

This may not be pleasant for younger folks to think about, but we all hope to live long, happy lives, and advanced age brings with it the risk of experiencing the effects of many different diseases. The various forms of arthritis can be especially painful diseases, and as Sahu already pointed out, there’s still no cure for osteoarthritis. 

It may not always be flashy, but this is what medical research is all about: looking for ways to make things better, and Sahu exemplifies that goal to a T. 

Now we’d like to take you through a few of the key details of Sahu’s research before moving on to her motivations. 

Current research techniques

The value of biomarkers 

A key aspect of Sahu’s research is determining and isolating biomarkers. But what are these biomarkers? 

Well, the term itself is fairly self-explanatory. As Sahu explains the concept, biomarkers are basically measurable indicators of the incidence of a disease or medical condition. 

“Biomarkers can be cells, proteins, or other biological molecules whose presence or levels may be indicative of a disease.” 

Rather than waiting for noticeable symptoms of a disease to manifest, biomarkers communicate the presence of a disease before any symptoms have come about. 

When it comes to osteoarthritis, there is no biomarker specific to the disease, and so researchers like Sahu instead need to examine other biomarkers in order to detect the disease.  

“As no biomarker for osteoarthritis exists, it is impossible to detect or even gauge the progression of the disease before irreversible damage has already occurred. Therefore, specific biomarkers are important to diagnose osteoarthritic patients in the early stages.” 

Sahu has had to find reliable ways to detect the presence of osteoarthritis, and she’s doing this by developing a highly-detailed understanding of the normal cellular layout of blood and cartilage. 

“My research entails understanding the cellular map of the blood and the cartilage tissue so that precise changes in the cell populations or molecular events can be identified in the event of osteoarthritis.” 

This may not represent the discovery of a single biomarker for osteoarthritis, but it could indeed serve the same function, and that’s big news when it comes to diagnosing this condition. 

Single-cell analysis 

Examining biomarkers already involves work on the molecular level, but another technique commonly used during Sahu’s research takes place on an even smaller scale: at the single-cell level. 

Single-cell analysis can be a powerful technique for researchers conducting tests, and for Sahu, single-cell analysis has been a way to test drugs on cells from someone with osteoarthritis. 

“We take discarded tissues/surgical wastes of patients undergoing knee replacement surgeries. These are patients with end-stage osteoarthritis. We harvest cells from these tissues and treat the cells with drugs. Then, using single-cell techniques, we analyze the cells, one cell at a time, and compare single-cell data in drug-treated cells versus untreated cells to detect changes.” 

This is a safe way to test various drugs and assess their feasibility as treatment options. The process also gathers the most detailed information possible. 

The use of single-cell analysis is yet another illustration of how Sahu and other top-level researchers are exploring many innovative avenues to get results.

Moving away from the technical side, let’s see how Sahu stays motivated to continue this challenging work. 

Overcoming challenges 

For Sahu, one of the biggest motivators of her career so far has been the overcoming of serious challenges. 

These challenges can take many different forms, but one of the most substantial challenges she’s ever had to face came in the form of re-orienting her studies to account for chemistry and bio-engineering. 

Sahu originally came from a biotechnology background but was enrolled in a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Ph.D. program. 

This meant that, somewhat unexpectedly, she needed to take on courses in chemical engineering just to qualify for this Ph.D. program and continue working on her dissertation, which was focused much more on biology than chemistry. 

The stakes were high, and, to say the least, the idea of not being able to move forward with her research was intimidating. 

“The risk of failure was high. I had no idea about chemical engineering. Personally, I consider succeeding in these courses my greatest accomplishment, because without that, I would never have pursued research or published articles.” 

It goes without saying that Sahu succeeded, continuing her work and going on to publish many academic research articles. 

Late in her educational career, Sahu was facing down a daunting challenge with serious ramifications, and looking back on that accomplishment now reminds her of the kind of success she’s capable of. 

Wanting to help 

Lastly, Sahu’s single greatest source of motivation has everything to do with the real-world impact of osteoarthritis. 

As Sahu explained, the onset of osteoarthritis is quick, often unexpected, and extremely painful. That kind of consistent pain can completely change a person’s life, adding major obstacles to many different aspects of everyday living. 

Sahu has also seen the effects of this disease firsthand, in multiple family members. 

“You’re fine one day and suddenly, walking, sitting, and standing up become painful, and the doctor says you have arthritis. It could be years of living in constant pain before you’re eligible for joint replacement surgeries. That takes a toll both physically and mentally. Too many in my family are suffering through this, and I obviously don’t want to be unlucky enough to suffer the same fate in the future. This is what motivates me to keep doing what I’m doing.” 

All this research, with its many advanced methods and innovative techniques, has a primary goal: finding a solution to osteoarthritis. Though a cure may not come around for many years, even finding viable new treatment methods could positively impact the lives of millions of people. 

Even in difficult moments, Sahu can reflect on this purpose and be reinvigorated by the value of her work. 

Before we go, we’d just like to say thank you to Sahu for sharing these stories with us, and we hope that our readers will also feel inspired by Sahu’s commitment to improving the lives of people everywhere. 

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